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More From Philip Mernick’s Collection

February 25, 2015
by the gentle author

In this new selection from Philip Mernick‘s fine collection of cartes de visite by nineteenth century East End photographers, gathered over the past twenty years, we publish portraits of women arranged chronologically to show the evolving styles of dress and changing roles of female existence.





c. 1870


c. 1870












c. 1890



c. 1900

c. 1910

c. 1910  Theatrical performer by William Whiffin

c. 1940 Driver

Photographs reproduced courtesy of Philip Mernick

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Portraits from Philip Mernick’s Collection

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15 Responses leave one →
  1. February 25, 2015

    A challenging assortment of portraits. Thank you so much for your wonderful dailies, gentle author…(and I hope your arm is not too painful, and will heal soon and perfectly).

  2. marianne isaacs permalink
    February 25, 2015

    oh my goodness what were we thinking dressing like that . No wonder women never got very far in running the world!! I wonder who they were and what their stories were ? Wonderrful photos.

  3. February 25, 2015

    So uncomfortable!
    So restrictive!
    No underarm deodorants

    How frustrating and confining those clothes look

  4. February 25, 2015

    These are astonishing photos, although some of those ladies do look rather grumpy! Valerie

  5. February 25, 2015

    I got to the photograph of the lady on the bicycle and I cheered, it was only recently when I was in the Ideas library on the Roman Road that I realized what a hot bed of feminist revolution the East End was, the lady on the bicycle represented for me the beginning of radicalism, she is wearing clothes she can move in, and sitting on something that gives her independence. The Winter Palace in the Russian Revolution was seized by a cadre of women on bicycles..Brilliant. No wonder so many of the others look fat and miserable, they are wearing clothes they cant move in. Viva Coco Chanel..

  6. Jude permalink
    February 25, 2015

    My thoughts similar to above about restrictive the clothes were. I have very little in the way of old family photos and wish my ancestors had been able to afford to go to the studios. I have been given a copy of a pic of my mother’s cousin and these dresses with dates have given me help in deciding the date of it. Thank you!

  7. Ellen in NEW England permalink
    February 25, 2015

    OH! The millinery, and the hair styles and the fancy work on the clothing. What a lot of work. I remember in the Narnia books, or maybe E. L. Nesbit, remarks about the uncomfortableness of clothing, with all the rough elastic and wool next to the skin. Hooray for cotton.

  8. Peter Holford permalink
    February 25, 2015

    Some scary ladies – I wonder if any of them are in my family tree.

  9. Marsha Horwath permalink
    February 25, 2015

    Everytime I see pictures of women dressed in their finest. I thank heaven for being born a baby boomer. Can’t imagine being squeezed in a corset. Give praise to whoever discovered perma press!

  10. February 25, 2015

    Yes, that girl on the bike is a welcome sight! I don’t have to fuss with discomfort all day, worry about every hair in place, or wear black clothing/jewelry/hats for years after a relative dies. What liberation!

  11. Annie permalink
    February 25, 2015

    Clothes of 1880s were possibly the ugliest ever. So tight and so unbecoming. And they wonder why women died so young, why they weren’t Prime Minister, why they weren’t running the world. Corsets. The curse of womankind.

  12. cate permalink
    March 1, 2015

    Is it just me, or is the one captioned “1890s” and holding what looks like a fan made of feathers clearly a man?

  13. March 9, 2015

    While fashion was decreeing that women wear ferociously tight corsets and heavily-upholstered dresses over them, there were protests and pleas from those who wanted to reform dress. But women who ventured out in public wearing “sensible”or “reform” garb—bloomers (harem pants, as worn by the performer in William Whiffin’s 1910 photo)—with a belted, knee-length tunic, were subjected to harassment—pelted with rotten fruit, stones, and manure. Bloomers didn’t really catch on until the invention of the safety bicycle (a happy day for women!); they were also popularized for gymwear. The right to wear the free-and-easy clothing we take for granted was gained bit by bit, and not without struggle. But the fashions of the 1890s and 1910-20s are attractive enough to collect, reproduce, and adapt. Edwardian tea dresses are especially pretty. (If you can fit into them!) Let’s heave a collective sigh of gratitude for our modern pajamas, trousers, shorts . . . and harem pants!

  14. Jean Ann Moores permalink
    March 10, 2015

    What a treasure to see all these fashionable ladies, their dresses, shoes (0nly one photo), hats and hair styles. My only lament is that I couldn’t get a close up of the buttons the garments touted.

  15. March 10, 2015

    Mourning buttons were made of carved jet (and were probably as elaborate as the family could afford) . . . and I agree . . . those Victorian and Edwardian buttons must have been lovely!

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